Bard baffled me, but now I am at the RSC; Theatre.
"SHAKESPEARE was Indian," declares Birmingham-based actress Bharti Patel confidently with a big grin. "I'm convinced of it."
She makes a strong argument pointing out that in romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing there are arranged marriages, strong family ties and an even stronger sense of family honour.
Bharti has always fiercely steered clear of the Bard in the past and told people: "I don't do Shakespeare."
But the Royal Shakespeare Company's modern-day version of Much Ado About Nothing at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford has converted her.
She is making her RSC debut playing Ursula and Verges in director Iqbal Khan's production as part of the World Shakespeare Festival. He convinced her that she was a natural when it came to the Bard. "I'd worked with him before and he said 'If I get to the RSC I'm taking you with me,'" she laughs, "I told him 'I won't be coming' but here I am. I was about to start work on a play in Birmingham and I got the phone call. I always thought Shakespeare was like a foreign language, but my friends were brilliant and helped me. I was so nervous at first, but I love it now. The play is so fantastic and has given me the opportunity to say 'Well, actually I can do Shakespeare."
The former Coventry schoolkid says she fell into acting by accident when she was 16 and accompanied a friend to Birmingham who wanted to audition for a BBC Play For Today.
"I was just hanging out outside and the director said 'You might as well audition' as well.'" Bharti took some persuading, but eventually agreed and ended up being offered the lead role. "My father loved to say I was working for the BBC and recorded it when it came on TV although it was ages before we both sat down and watched it."
Her TV debut proved a turning point and the mother-of-three has been acting ever since and recently appeared in Sky Blues soccer stage hit We Love You City at the Belgrade Theatre in Covent r y.
Now based in Birmingham, Bharti's TV and film credits include Prime Suspect 5, Residents, Broke, All About Us, Say What You Think, Veiled Existence and Don't Stop Dreaming. "I've never had an agent," she points out, "people have recommended me for roles. and I never thought this would be my career.
I suppose I thought I would be a nurse or a social worker, but acting came along and now I'm in this brilliant play and loving Shakespeare."
MIDLANDER Robert Mountford has been getting spiritual about Much Ado About Nothing.
He plays Friar Francis in the Indian-inspired production with his character renamed Panditji. He is the voice of reason when things start to go wrong in the comedy and romance turns bitter.
But the Sutton Coldfield actor admits he had to work on an authentic Indian accent for the role. "I d id n't want to sound like some comedy stereotype," he explains, "but it wasn't hard to get into the Getting spititual: Robert Mountford and Madhav Shama.
rhythm of the language once we started."
Robert appeared in the RSC's production of The Merchant Of Venice 10 years ago, which toured to America and the Far East, and has popped up on TV in programmes like EastEnders, Doctors and Casualty alongside his theatre, radio and film work.
But the former Bishop Walsh School boy first trod the boards at Aldridge Youth Theatre when he was just seven years old and went on to do a degree in politics at Liverpool University before following his passion for acting.
"I felt I wasn't ready before -hand," he explains, "but, being a Brummie, I wanted to work at Birmingham Rep and the RSC when I got into acting and it's great to be back in Stratford again and it's pretty exciting to be part of the world festival."
Robert was adopted as a baby and says both his adoptive parents were keen theatre-goers and used to read Macbeth to him when he was growing up - "they would do all the voices" - and later supported his acting dreams. "I quite like not knowing what is going to happen next," he admits. "I think actors are adrenalin junkies."
The half Irish and half Indian actor and his Irish wife have three children and he says they keep him grounded.
He's also taught Shakespeare workshops across America and says his perfect Bard role would be Iago in Othello. "It would be a bit of departure for me, but I would like to play psycho and menacing."
TicketInfo Much Ado About Nothing runs at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford, until September 15. 0844 800 1110. The production transfers to the Noel Coward Theatre in London from September 22 to October 27.
Getting spititual: Robert Mountford and Madhav Shama. Strong family ties: Bharti Patel with Meera Syal in Much Ado About Nothing.